I travelled to Nuh, Haryana, India’s most backward district, to meet the widows of Pehlu Khan and Rakbar Khan, men murdered by cow vigilantes. This story was published in The Hindu.
Lying on a string cot beneath a row of pale green prayer beads that hangs from the wall, Asmeena Khan holds up a frail hand and says softly, “Please pray for me.”
There is no electricity and Asmeena cannot summon the strength to wave away the flies that settle on her face. She has been bedridden since being in a car accident four months ago. Her brother says the doctors have said she is paralysed from the waist down, and will never walk again.
Asmeena is the widow of Rakbar Khan, the dairy farmer who was killed by cow vigilantes on the night of July 20, 2018. After the murder of 28-year-old Rakbar, Asmeena, who has never been to school and is unsure even of her age, was left to raise her seven children. The eldest, 14-year-old Saahila, dropped out of school to help her mother with household chores and add to the family income by working as a daily wage labourer; four younger children were enrolled at a residential school in Aligarh run by a charitable society. The youngest two, aged six and three, have stayed with their mother in Tapkan village in Haryana’s Nuh district.
When the accident happened. Asmeena was on her way to visit her children in Aligarh in a taxi. A truck collided with the car she was in. The driver and a 19-year-old niece accompanying Asmeena were killed. Asmeena was first taken to the medical college in Nuh and then referred to a hospital in New Delhi, as her injuries were serious.
Continue reading “Life after lynching: the widows of Nuh”
In IndiaSpend, I look at the state of India’s shelter homes for children to discover endemic abuse and, worse, absolute apathy.
She has no memory of her early childhood, no recollection of her biological parents and no idea of how or why she got separated from them when she was about three years old.
What she does remember is the day she arrived at the Udayan Home for girls in south Delhi.
“I had then been living at a government-run shelter for some years,” said Ritu, who often uses Udayan as her last name. “I must have been around six years old when this lady came to take three of us away, to give us a life. It was so exciting. I had never sat in a car. Never been anywhere. I was curious about everything.”
Now 25, Ritu is one of the exceptional ones who grew up in a shelter home and found a family. She calls Kiran Modi, the founder of Udayan homes, her bua (aunt, or father’s sister) and the two girls who came to Udayan with her, sisters.
“I had a perfectly normal childhood, going to school, going to the park to play and getting the kind of pampering any child would get in a loving home,” said Ritu, who played basketball for her school team. “I was so pampered and so protected that when I left Udayan, I was scared about how I would cope in the outside world.”
Not every child placed in an institution is as lucky.
Continue reading “Abuse of Children in India’s Institutions Reveals Nationwide Crisis of Reform”
In Hindustan Times: I argue that Section 377, which criminalises sex against ‘the order of nature’, should be scrapped because it is past its use-by date, conforms to outdated values of marriage and family and is a blatant violation of human rights.
When Padma Iyer’s son, Harish, told her he was gay in the early 2000s, LGBTQ was a jumble of letters that meant nothing to the conservative Tamil mom. But she remembers telling him, “Don’t tell your father, and don’t let the relatives know.”
She says: “My instinct was to protect him. I could accept him but was afraid my family would not.”
Today, Padma Iyer is on TV and on YouTube explaining Evening Shadows, a crowd-funded film by Sridhar Rangayan about a mother from a small town whose gay son comes out to her.
“So many parents ask me for advice,” says Iyer. It was for these parents that Rangayan launched Sweekar, a support group, in December 2016.
But the sad truth is that many LGBTQ face violence from their own families. “The parental family most often perpetrates domestic violence faced by lesbians,” finds a 2003 report, The Nature of Violence Faced by Lesbian Women in India, by Bina Fernandez and Gomathy NB of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). This violence includes verbal and physical abuse, confinement and coercion into marriage.
Continue reading “What makes us human? The right to love”
Who decides what is nationalism and how best it is to be displayed? For some, standing up for the national anthem is tokenism; for others it is a sacred duty. For some, our flag and national anthem are the glues of nationhood; for others, nationalism is best expressed through being good citizens.
In 2009, months after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, Ram Gopal Varma made a film called Rann. A critique of media’s insatiable appetite for TRPs, the movie’s title track was a remix of the national anthem, with the added word rann (or war). Jana Gana Mana rann hai, is rann mein zakhmi hua hai Bharat ka bhagya vidhata and so on. To nobody’s great surprise, the Censor Board raised objections and Varma had to drop the song.
What a long way we’ve come since 2009. Then, I wrote about how Varma had crossed a line. But nobody suggested that he was being unpatriotic or less than Indian or should be dispatched to Pakistan.
Now, forget about remixes, people who fail to stand during the playing of our national anthem are abused, threatened and ejected from movie halls by vigilante audiences. Continue reading “Mob at Mumbai cinema diminished spirit of national anthem”